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California’s Smog Check Program Gets Controversial With “STAR”

Scott Tsuneishi
Aug 29, 2013

On Jan. 1, 2013, California began implementing a new vehicle smog check system known as the STAR Program. This new state program is another hurdle that anyone who drives on public roads must endure. City and DMV phones have been receiving a steady stream of angry/concerned calls from the few unfortunate individuals who received a STAR notice in the mail as well as local mechanic shops looking for answers on how to repair cars to pass a smog program that has little information available.

Renewal forms from the DMV used to tell drivers to go to “Gold Shield” stations in the past. Not anymore. New rules supersede the Gold Shield and direct drivers to STAR stations. Many of you—including us—are asking the same question. What was the need to have a new name/new smog classification? I imagine the answer would be none other than money for our dwindling state. Regardless, think of the STAR Program as Gold Shield with an increase in unnecessary procedures and a whole lot of new regulations.

What is the STAR Program?

The STAR Program is a new way the Bureau of Automotive Repair (BAR) designates smog check stations. What is the difference with a regular smog station and a STAR smog station, you ask? According to the DMV website, if you recently received a letter with “STAR Program” emblazoned on the top of your renewals, congratulations! The DMV has chosen your car to be inspected at a smog station that is monitored closely by BAR and must conform to high standards established by BAR. Yes, the same BAR that inspects cars upon receiving a referee station ticket for modified exhausts or non-smog–compliant parts.

The STAR Program was designed to allow BAR to closely monitor and ensure smog shops are doing proper inspections and not cheating the system. Smog shops authorized to perform smog inspections under the new STAR Station ordinance will have to pass stricter guidelines to get the new STAR certification in order to do smog tests on cars. Other STAR-certified smog centers could perform smog inspections as well as smog check repairs. These smog stations are known as STAR Test & Repair stations. Both STAR stations are allowed to perform regular and STAR smog checks.

If the DMV is asking for “Smog Certificate Required at a STAR station” you can visit either of these smog test centers.

Dmv STAR renewal notice Photo 2/2   |   Dmv STAR Renewal Notice

How are vehicles selected for STAR smog check?

The state of California uses the following three strategies to determine whether a vehicle is STAR station designated:
• Gross polluters (vehicles that have failed a previous smog inspection with very high emission readings).
• High-emitter profile vehicles (this type of vehicle is designated by BAR as having a high chance of failing the smog inspection).
• A random sample of all vehicles registered in California and being driven on public roadways.

Scare Tactics?

One thought that has many of us worried is that BAR will be monitoring STAR-certified smog stations’ scores for a span of six months, a time period that each location must meet/adhere with their testing standards. This can cause issues for the average consumer looking to pass their car, as the station’s similar vehicle failure rate for the last quarter must be 75 percent or higher of the state standards. On the flip side, there may be smog technicians out there who think if they fail cars, even the ones that are “supposed to pass”, or by having an increase in failure rate of any kind, their STAR score will increase. Customers’ vehicles (including yours and mine) may fail the smog check when they were supposed to pass. It’s still too early in the game to feel the impact, but only time will tell how this newly introduced STAR Program pans out.

By Scott Tsuneishi
247 Articles

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